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Border Wars

If inshore anglers didn’t have enough trouble staying in tune with FWC rules and regulations, fishermen who visit Florida’s westernmost metropolis have even more to deal with.

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Photo: Captain John Rivers/Mega Bite Inshore Charters

From my home port in Pensacola, FL the Alabama border lies only 10 miles to the west. If you plan on wetting a line in the coastal lagoon known as Perdido Bay that seperates the two states, you better know precisely where you are at all times because not doing so could result in substantial fishery violations.

The true treasure of Perdido Bay lies in its beautiful shorelines and its abundance of quality shallow water game fish.

I kept this fact in the back of my head as I eased my 240 Triton through the early morning fog near one of my favorite honey holes. I could hear the crashing sounds of game fish getting their morning fix so I knew the bite was on. Fortunately, I know my way around the waters of Perdido Bay very well, but even as a seasoned guide with years of experience on these waters I had to keep a close eye on my chart plotter. In this venue, you really have to keep track of which state you are in because you could easily cross the border without knowing it, and while there’s absolutaly nothing illegal about fishing both sides, which particular state you are in makes a significant difference in the size and bag limit of each species you are permitted to harvest.

Perdido Bay lies east of the Alabama communities of Orange Beach and Lillian and west of Pensacola and Perdido Key in Florida. Toward the south end of the bay is Ono Island, which is in Alabama territory. The west end of the bay is near Alabama Point and Perdido Pass, which was closed during the Gulf Oil Spill to prevent contamination. The east end of the bay crosses Florida Point and butts up next to Johnson Beach, which is a National Park and barrier island that protects the mainland from storm surges, and is also where Perdido Bay empties into Big Lagoon through the ICW. From there, Big Lagoon empties into Pensacola Pass.

In its entirety, Perdido Bay is a relatively shallow water basin. It averages two to three miles wide and is approxitmataly 15 miles in length. At its deepest, the bay dips to 15 feet, but averages only 3- to 5-feet. Perdido Bay offers diversified habitat ranging from brackish water to the north where it is fed by the Perdido River, to high salinity conditions at the southern end of the bay where it spills into the Gulf. While Perdido Bay is split right down the middle in jurisdiction, Perdido Pass actually lies in Alabama.

There are a number of creeks that feed Perdido Bay with consistent action found around the mouth of Elevenmile Creek. The mouth of the Perdido River is also a known hot spot with consistent action with trout, redfish, flounder and even a bass from time to time. Diversity is really the name of the game here.

Throughout Perdido Bay sea grasses provide spawning areas, nursery grounds and prime habitat for many vital species of both commercial and recreational importance, including shrimp, scallops, crabs, speckled trout, redfish, flounder and mullet. While the entire waterway can yield fantastic fishing, Perdido Bay is the only bay in Florida that shares waters with another state so if you intentionally or accidently venture into differing jurisdictions, you need both state licenses to fish here.

It’s no easy task to keep track of the rules and regulations while still trying to enjoy your time on the water. Keep in mind even if you are in possession of both Alabama and Florida fishing licenses and you launch from the Alabama side and plan on crossing over and fishing Florida waters, you better not possess a single trout under 15-inches in length, even though Alabama’s regulations allow the harvest of 14-inch trout. If the game warden stops you for an inspection, you’ll likely be handed a violation for the undersized trout. A safe rule of thumb is to always abide by the stricter state’s regulations. Most people fish this way in Perdido Bay, so if they fish Florida waters first and then venture into Alabama waters, they know they are in the green as the regulations are stricter in Florida.

What I’ve learned over the years is that Perdido Bay can drive an angler absolutely crazy some days and make you feel like a professional fisherman on others. Spring, summer and fall are all excellent seasons to fish Perdido Bay. However since we are in north Florida, we do experience a brief winter season and our fishing patterns vary due to incliment weather, freshwater influences and varying tidal flow. While these same factors play a role in most bodies of water, they really impact Perdido Bay in a big way.

Legend has it that Perdido Bay was a favorite hiding spot for pirates looking to bury their treasure. The true treasure of Perdido Bay lies in its beautiful shorelines and its abundance of quality shallow water game fish. There are bayous, marshes, river mouths, current swept points, docks, channel edges and an entire host of additional fish-attracting habitat that could keep an angler busy for the rest of his life. Just remember to have a current copy of the regulations in your tackle bag and fishing licenses for both states on hand or you may be forced to walk the plank!

Law Stick

If you plan on fishing the Alabama side of Perdido Bay, but plan on traveling back to your launch site in Florida, you better make sure you have a fishing license from both states. While they only rest a few miles apart, Florida and Alabama have different regulations for most shallow water game fish.

Alabama Rules & Regs (OutdoorAlabama.com)
Trout: 14″ min. (total length), 10 fish per angler per day
Redfish: 16″ to 26″ slot (total length), 3 fish per angler per day with 1 fish over slot
Flounder: 12″ min. (total length), 10 fish per angler per day
Sheepshead: 12″ min. (fork length), 10 fish per angler per day
Tripletail: 18″ min. (total length), 3 fish per angler per day

Florida Rules & Regs (MYFWC.com)
Trout: 15″ to 20″ slot (total length), 5 fish per angler per day with 1 fish over 20″
Redfish: 18″ to 27″ slot (total length), 2 fish per angler per day
Flounder: 12″ min. (total length), 10 fish per angler per day
Sheepshead: 12″ min. (total length), 15 fish per angler per day
Tripletail: 18″ min. (total length), 3 fish per angler per day

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